It’s another week’s worth of horror, fantasy, and science fiction film reviews at Cinefantastique’s Black Hole Ultra-Lounge Podcast. In episode 5:4.2, Steve Biodrowski exorcises HERE COMES THE DEVIL, a Video on Demand opus from writer-director Adrián García Bogliano; Dan Persons stakes Dario Argento’s DRACULA, the Italian filmmaker’s eccentric variation on Bram Stokers immortal vampire; and Lawrence French recalls THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, the Gothic-themed spoof starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and Boris Karloff.
Also included is the usual rundown of the week’s home video reviews, including FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967) and DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1922). And don’t forget: after all the reviews are done, stick around for the “after-show” – in which the recording software continues to capture the musings of the three podcasters as they try to figure out whether the giant praying mantis in Argento’s DRACULA is related to the bee in Universal Pictures’ classic black-and-white version of DRACULA (1931).
Fuses the grindhouse with the arthouse into an interesting but unsatisfying hybrid.
Landscapes are scary. Their enormity makes us feel small. Their longevity mocks the brevity of our existence, reminding us that they were around before our birth and will continue after our death. They represent natural forces beyond our control, that shape our lives in ways we can barely understand, and if you stare at them long enough, you might start to imagine that these forces are not merely natural but supernatural – possibly incomprehensible and potentially malevolent. This brooding, irrational dread infuses the early scenes of HERE COMES THE DEVIL, lending an aura of uncanny menace, a la Peter Weir’s PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, that lingers in the memory long after writer-director Adrián García Bogliano has diluted the atmosphere with a potent but rather inchoate mix of exploitation horror, revenge, gore, and sex. Fortunately, in what is either a happy accident or a clever piece of cinematic jiu-jitsu, Bogliano’s inability or refusal to formulate the disparate elements into a rational whole leaves the film itself feeling a bit like an incomprehensible artifact – a metaphoric crevasse in the intimidating landscape the film depicts so unnervingly. So score this one as a partial victory, in spite of itself.
The story follows Sol (Laura Caro) and Felix (Francisco Barreiro), parents out for a weekend excursion with their children, Sara (Michele Garcia) and Adolfo (Alan Martinez). This kids want to explore a nearby landscape on their own. Felix grants permission, because he wants a few moments alone with Sol in the car, so that they can have sex (which we are led to believe happens too infrequently since the kids came along).
While Sara and Adolfo explore a crevasse in the rocks, Felix explores Sol’s crevasse in the car. There is an orgasm and an earthquake; the kids disappear; the police are called. The children are found the next day, and life goes back to normal. Well, not so much: there is something odd about Sara and Adolfo, almost pod-like; they seem too secretive about their mysterious absence, and a child psychologist suggests they may be too close for a normal brother-sister relationship. Did something happen on the mountain? Something vile and unspeakable? And was it sexual in nature, or supernatural?
In case you didn’t notice, “crevasse” in this context is a deliberate pun on the use of the word as a slang term for female genitalia. I wish I could take credit for this, but that goes to Bogliano, who leaves us in little doubt about the true source of horror in the film. If there is one thing more profoundly disturbing than eternal landscapes, it is sex. Bogliano establishes this in the opening scene a gratuitous lesbian coupling that leads immediately to a violent confrontation with a home invader (later revealed to be a serial killer), who is wounded and retreats to the mysterious mountain top, presumably to die (though his death throes suggest a sex act with the local rocky terrain).
The sequence has little to do with what follows, except insofar as it provides one concrete example of the mountain’s ominous reputation for evil (like villagers in Transylvania, the locals warn the tourists to avoid the cursed spot). The real purpose of the sequence is to make the initial connection between sex, violence, and death. To be fair, there is at least a suggestion that the problem is not sex, per se, but feelings of guilt over acting in ways that violate conservative social expectations: Sol fears she is neglecting the children; one of the women in the opening seems to immediately regret her Sapphic liaison. In any case, the symbolic “little death” of the orgasm leads inevitably to literal death – suggesting a dark conspiracy of primordial forces both inside and outside of us, tempting us to indiscretions with fatal consequences.
If this sounds pretentious, don’t worry. HERE COMES THE DEVIL never makes the mistake of explicating this in the dialogue; the implications simply exist like raw ore, waiting to be extracted. Unfortunately, Bogliano is not content to let his viewers mine this vein on their own; he has other, more visceral concerns that trump thematic ambition, distracting him from what could have been an effectively ambiguous tale of sexual aberration hiding beneath a veneer of the supernatural (a la THE CAT PEOPLE or THE INNOCENTS).
Let’s face it: the audience for an unrated horror film such as HERE COMES THE DEVIL is not interested in subtle ambiguity; they want to see boundaries crossed and taboos broken, and Bogliano is happy to oblige, whatever the cost to his film. Besides establishing the sex-death connection, the lesbian prologue immediately grabs attention-deficit viewers, who might otherwise tune out during the slowly building tension of the first-act disappearance and the gradually escalating concerns of the parents after their children reappear. This kind of pandering is easy enough to understand – an artist has a right to hook his audience, after all – but later developments are not so forgivable.
HERE COMES THE DEVIL goes off the rails when Bogliano introduces a subplot in which Sol and Felix track down a misfit they believe sexually abused their children. Not only does this distract from the main story; it mars an interesting variation on the either-of ambiguity of the scenario: Most films would ask, “Are the children possessed, or are the parents imagining it?” HERE COMES THE DEVIL asks, “Are the children acting strangely because they are possessed or because they were abused?” Unfortunately, instead of exploring this concept, Bogliano uses it as an excuse to stage a bloody atrocity scene.
Working on the thinnest of evidence, Sol and Felix murder the suspected abuser. The scene is staged for maximum gore – and quite nonsensically. Felix slits the man’s throat, the inexplicably grabs his legs, which doesn’t seem a particularly effective way to restrain him but does give Sol access to the man’s upper torso. Not content to let the struggling victim simply bleed out, Sol reaches into his gaping throat and tears out his larynx with her fingers. The violence is spectacular but ridiculous. Even worse, it utterly destroys any sympathy we have for our protagonists, whose fate ceases to interest us, rendering the rest of the film as an archetypal example of the dreaded “Eight Deadly Words” syndrome: I don’t care what happens to these people.
Charitably, one might argue that there is a point to the scene: Faced with a horrible reality they cannot process emotionally, Sol and Felix seek a scapegoat. The irony here is that the “horrible reality” is demonic possession, and they mistakenly target a more tangible, believable source for their troubles. Whatever the intention, HERE COMES THE DEVIL starts to become less about the problem with the children and more about the parents’ getting away with murder, as a local sheriff starts showing up to ask questions about the missing misfit.
Along the way we see some paranormal activity focused on Sara and Adolfo; a babysitter recounts what sounds like supernatural sexual abuse and strongly hints at witnessing an incestuous relationship between the brother and sister; the story of the serial killer from the prologue is recounted, this time with a glimpse of his demonic visage. The clever touch here is that most effectively eerie supernatural phenomena are recounted second hand and seen in flashback, leaving us to wonder how literally to take these tales (is it real or imagination).
Just in case the title were not enough, HERE COMES THE DEVIL ultimately comes down squarely on the side of ominous occult forces, when we see Adolfo and later Sol levitating. The sequence with Adolfo is effective not only as a set-piece but also as a dramatic development driving the parents’ hysterical search for answers. Unfortunately, the later sequence with Sol leaves actress Laura Caro looking less like the helpless victim of supernatural menace than a comic relief character falling out of a hammock. In any case, after being menaced not only by her affect-less living children but also by zombie-like visions of their corpses, Sol returns to the mountain and learns the awful truth.
Not that we care by this point, but…. SPOILERS
… it turns out that Sara and Adolfo never came out of the crevasse: Sol finds their bodies inside the cave, suggesting that they have been replaced by evil dopplegangers. Just when you are wondering what she will do about it, the film takes another weird turn: she shows the awful truth to her husband, adopting an accusatory tone (presumably because he wanted to have sex while letting the children wander off on their own). Felix shoots Sol and then himself – presumably because he cannot face the guilty truth but really so that Bogliano can hit us with the “shocking” conclusion, in which duplicates of Sol and Felix emerge from the cave and drive home, presumably to reconcile with their duplicate children and enjoy a happily demonic home life. The nuclear family has been totally subsumed by the evil lurking in the mountain, their lives destroyed by the aftershocks of the parent’s sexual dalliance (a metaphor emphasized by the fact that an earthquake occurs whenever someone dies on the mountain and is replaced by an evil double). SPOILERS
The downbeat ending might have had some impact if we had been in any way invested in the outcome, but by the time the film finally fades out, we have long since given up on the characters and are interested only in an explanation. The revelation about Sara and Adolfo is good enough to satisfy on a simple “What happened?” level, although strictly speaking it does not gibe with the legends surrounding the haunted mountain (which involve evil forces possessing people as vessels – not exactly what happens here).
In spite of all the narrative mis-steps, HERE COMES THE DEVIL’s gloomy aura of cynicism (which passes for authenticity in so far as it eschews Hollywood glitz) sustains itself for most of the feature length. Consequently, the usual suspects (Dread Central, Arrow in the Head, etc) have been singing praises to the film while overlooking that, far from being a radical departure, it is actually not far removed from todays’ mainstream horror film formula (in which families routinely succumb en masse to evil unseen entities).
What raises HERE COMES THE DEVIL a tad above the latest PARANORMAL ACTIVITY spin-off is more a matter of tone than content. Bogliano’s film adopts a grim 1970s exploitation tone that sets the viewer on edge. You see it in the cinematography and hear it on the soundtrack – not so much in the rapid-fire heavy metal song but in the background music, which offers echoes of Pink Floyd’s work for Barbet Schroeder’s mystical THE VALLEY and Fabio Frizzi’s work for Lucio Fulci’s gruesome THE BEYOND. (There is even a character named Lucio, though it is pronounced differently from the moniker of the Italian filmmaker.) Those two touchpoints may seem astronomically removed from each other, but they underline HERE COMES THE DEVIL’s singular achievement, which is fusing the art house with the grindhouse. The result may not be satisfying, but it is interesting.
HERE COMES THE DEVIL is currently in limited theatrical release, with engagements scheduled in Kansas City, Gainesville, Toronto, and Ottawa. Check Magnet Releasing’s website for details. You can also view the film via Video on Demand in the Cinefantastique Online Store, powered by Amazon.com. [rating=2]
On the CFQ Scale of 0 to 5 stars, worth checking out if you like this sort of thing.
Adrián García Bogliano explores a similar theme in his “B is for Bigfoot” episode from THE ABCS OF DEATH, which also features a couple trying to get rid of a child so that they can engage in sex. Being a short film, “B is for Bigfoot” avoids the narrative detours the derail HERE COMES THE DEVIL. Also, the only characters who “get it” clearly deserve it, punished not so much for having sex as for cruelly terrifying a young child with a ghastly bedtime story (in order to get her to hide beneath the covers and thus put prevent further interruptions).
HERE COMES THE DEVIL (2012). USA Video on Demand and Theatrical Release, December 2013 from Magnet Releasing. Written and directed by Adrián García Bogliano. Cast: Francisco Berreiro as Felix; Laura Caro as Sol; Alan Martinez as Adolfo; Michele Garcia as Sara; David Arturo Cabezud as Lucio; Giancarlo Ruiz as Sgt. Flores. 97 minutes. Not Rated.